Isolate vs. Full Spectrum vs. Broad Spectrum: Different Types of CBD

For first-time cannabidiol (CBD) users, it is always a matter of confusion, and that of debate for regular users:

  • Should I choose a product composed of pure CBD or do I opt for a full-spectrum composition?
  • Which variant has more benefits?
  • Which is safer?
  • Which one is suitable for me?

The questions are endless. But, before we can answer them, you need to first understand:

  • Why spectrums matter in cannabidiol oil,
  • How these different spectrums are created, and
  • What CBD isolate and full-spectrum CBD really means.

It is the cannabinoid composition, ratio or the spectrum in any CBD product that determines whether it is a full spectrum CBD, broad-spectrum CBD, or a CBD isolate. All CBD products available in the market must belong to any one of the above compositions or spectrums.

But how are they created differently?

CBD Extraction – Setting the Cannabis Strains Apart

In order to create a CBD product, the cannabinoids are extracted from cannabis plants, using different kinds of decarboxylation processes. These processes chemically remove a carboxyl group from the complex compounds (the cannabinoids) and release carbon dioxide. When cannabis is decarboxylated, a carbon atom is removed from a carbon chain.

Decarbing cannabis doesn’t just extract CBD; instead, it extracts all other compounds found in the plant – terpenes, flavonoids, and other cannabinoids.

All of these compounds are found in different proportions in different strains of the cannabis genus. Hence, the composition and the cannabinoid profile of the end-product depend on the particular strain of cannabis used in the extraction stage.

Hemp, which belongs to the Cannabis Sativa species, contains little to no THC. However, marijuana, which is also a Cannabis Sativa strain contains far higher levels of THC. In comparison, Cannabis Indica, contains equal proportions of CBD and THC.

Different strains are used by the manufacturing companies depending on the purpose or use – medicinal or recreational drug. Even after the extraction process, manufacturers can choose to refine the extract to ensure the presence of specific cannabinoids in specific proportions.

CBD Isolate

Isolate is the purest form of a compound, produced by extracting it individually, without it being in combination with other elements or compounds. It is created by isolating it from its usual environment and separating it from the usual compounds it is combined with.

In the case of CBD, the other compounds are the list of cannabinoids (mentioned earlier, terpenes, flavonoids, and fatty acids. CBD isolate products are available in crystalline solid or powder forms, containing at least 99% pure CBD.

Often patients, taking CBD to manage pain, ingest it orally or mix it with food items or drinks. You can also smoke or vaporize (with a vape pen) it like any other cannabis concentrate.

CBD isolate, being the purest form of CBD, is devoid of all other compounds found in cannabis, including terpenes, flavonoids, plant parts, and even other cannabinoids.

Pure CBD products are preferred for two main reasons:

  • For fear of legal constraints, or
  • Fear of how their body may react to THC. (THC has hallucinatory effects on both humans and animals. It can also cause nausea and anxiety.)

CBD Isolate is generally extracted from hemp, as this strain of cannabis has no or negligible THC-content.

Full Spectrum CBD

In contrast to CBD isolate, a full-spectrum CBD extract contains all kinds of compounds that are naturally present in the plant, including all cannabinoids, including THC, terpenes [1], flavonoids [2] and essential oils.

CBD isolate was believed to be more effective than full-spectrum CBD until 2005 when this theory was contradicted by the authors of a study [3] that clearly displayed better outcome from full-spectrum CBD than CBD isolate.

The researchers from the Lautenberg Center for General Tumor Immunology in Jerusalem found that test subjects given full-spectrum CBD experienced higher levels of relief compared to those given pure CBD. Besides, it was also found that full-spectrum CBD offered better and more enhanced results with higher dosages, which wasn’t the case with pure CBD. With CBD isolate, increased dosages made no difference in therapeutic effect on the test subjects.

This brings us to the concept of “Entourage Effect” [4 & 5].

All cannabinoids (including CBD), terpenes, flavonoids, and essential oils – all of which are found in a full-spectrum CBD product – work in unison to magnify the therapeutic benefits of each individual compound. This effect is known as the Entourage Effect.

Proponents and advocacy groups, who support the use of full-spectrum CBD, believe that using or consuming substances in the form that nature intended them to be are, in fact, the best way to take them. For example, coca leaves aren’t dangerous until they are distilled and synthesized to create cocaine.

When all these compounds interact together with our body, their effects are boosted, making them more potent and bioavailable. In short, it is a synergistic effect on our system – just like teamwork!

In case of cannabis, it has been seen that the different compounds can amplify [6] each other’s chemistry, enhancing their effect on humans and animals alike and helping in addressing adverse symptoms more efficiently.

In fact, a lot of CBD advocates claim that the full-spectrum form is the most effective, no matter what the ailment, given that it has far higher bioavailability [7].

Interestingly, terpenes have some very significant benefits. Apart from giving cannabis its unique smell and flavor, these oily compounds offer a variety of benefits. Some of the most common terpenes in cannabis include:

  • Caryophyllene: Gives out a spicy smell. It offers many therapeutic benefits for treating ulcers, arthritis, and gastrointestinal problems.
  • Limonene: This is a citrus-smelling terpene. It offers anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties. It can also help with depression and heartburn.
  • Linalool: Flower-like sweet smelling, this terpene has medicinal values that include relief from depression and anxiety.
  • Myrcene: Myrcene gives away an earthy smell. It is good for relieving muscle tension, curing insomnia, as well as alleviating chronic pain.

Apart from their innate medicinal values, terpenes also have another very important role. They intensify the power of the cannabinoids, especially CBD. In order to retain these terpenes during the extraction process, the raw cannabis should never be heated up to 300°F.

Then, the question arises: If using full-spectrum extract is so great, why can’t we all use it? There are several hurdles [8] to overcome before everyone can have access to this holistic approach. They are:

  • Quality control: The state of regulations in this country, and in most other countries, is quite poor. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not monitor herbal medicine products as strictly as it does for medical products. This can result in potentially contaminated, adulterated, less effective, or even unsafe herbal products being sold to people.
  • Inconsistent potency: Botanical extracts are inconsistent and unreliable when it comes to its potency, given that you can’t always control the environment in which they are grown. Besides, weather conditions also affect crops in ways that are beyond our control.
  • Lack of standardization: There is a complete lack of standardization of botanical products, owing mostly to the dearth of knowledge and understanding of all their components.

Nonetheless, research is still on to gain a better understanding of the therapeutic benefits of whole-plant use of cannabis and how they interact with the body.

Broad-Spectrum CBD

This variant negates the effects of THC while keeping the entourage effect intact. That is broad-spectrum CBD. This has the goodness of both a Full-Spectrum CBD and CBD Isolate product.

Like in a Full-Spectrum CBD extract, the other compounds found in cannabis plants – terpenes, flavonoids, essential oils, fatty acids, and several cannabinoids – are all preserved, but with one exception. Like in CBD Isolate, the broad-spectrum extract is completely devoid of THC.

Due to this, broad-spectrum CBD can deliver the enhanced benefits of the “entourage effect,” without the risk of psychoactive effects of THC.

Which Variant is Better and for whom?

If you are still confused about which variant to choose, take a look at the following comparative table that discusses the pros, cons and usability factors.

Table: Isolate vs. Full Spectrum vs. Broad Spectrum

Composition

CBD Isolate

Pros

Purest form;

No THC, no risk of intoxication;

Generally safe, no risk of overdose;

Tasteless & Odorless;

Won’t test positive for THC

Cons

Does not produce the enhanced effects of the entire plant

Type of User

Who have been recommended to take especially high doses of CBD;

Who are sensitive to THC;

Who regularly undergo drug screening;

Who don’t like the taste of cannabis;

Full Spectrum CBD

Provides the complete benefit of cannabis plants (entourage effect);

Undergoes fewer processes

May have intoxicating, sedative and other adverse side-effects;

May show up on drug screening tests;

Legal concerns;

Strong natural flavor and smell

Who have been recommended a specific CBD: THC ratio;

Severe conditions on which CBD isolate has no effect;

Who live in areas where cannabis as a whole is legal

Broad Spectrum CBD

The full benefit of cannabis plants (entourage effect);

No intoxicating effect, no fear of overdosing

Fewer scientific proof of efficacy;

Restricted availability;

May have strong odor and flavor

Who finds no relief from CBD isolate;

Who are sensitive to THC;

Who live in states with anti-THC laws;

First-time users can also try it safely

Final Thoughts on different types of CBD

CBD undeniably has quite a few therapeutic benefits on our body and mind. Given the above facts, it may be safe to say that, considering all variables in our life situations, broad-spectrum CBD is an easy and safe bet, although such products are quite rare.

While scientists are busy doing their part, users should always act responsibly – be wary of the law and ALWAYS consult a doctor before choosing any variant of CBD product.

It’s better safe and sorry!

  1. Medicinal Properties of Cannabinoids, Terpenes, and Flavonoids in Cannabis, and Benefits in Migraine, Headache, and Pain: An Update on Current Evidence and Cannabis Science; Headache; July 5, 2018; Baron EP; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30152161
  2. Chemistry and Biological Activities of Flavonoids: An Overview; The Scientific World Journal; December 29, 2013; Shashank Kumar and Abhay K Pandey; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3891543/
  3. Overcoming the Bell‐Shaped Dose‐Response of Cannabidiol by Using Cannabis Extract Enriched in Cannabidiol; Pharmacology & Pharmacy, Scientific Research Publishing; February 10, 2015; Ruth Gallily, Zhannah Yekhtin, Lumír Ondřej Hanuš; The Lautenberg Center for General and Tumor Immunology, The Hadassah Medical School, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Jerusalem, Israel, and Department of Medicinal and Natural Products, Institute for Drug Research, The Hadassah Medical School, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Jerusalem, Israel; https://file.scirp.org/pdf/PP_2015021016351567.pdf
  4. Appraising the “entourage effect”: Antitumor action of a pure cannabinoid versus a botanical drug preparation in preclinical models of breast cancer; Biochemical Pharmacology; June 27, 2018; Blasco-Benito S, Seijo-Vila M, Caro-Villalobos M, Tundidor I, Andradas C, García-Taboada E, Wade J, Smith S, Guzmán M, Pérez-Gómez E, Gordon M, Sánchez; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29940172
  5. Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid-terpenoid entourage effects; British Journal of Pharmacology; August 16, 2011; Ethan B Russo; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3165946/
  6. Whole plant extracts versus single compounds for the treatment of malaria: synergy and positive interactions; Malaria Journal; March 15, 2011; Rasoanaivo P, Wright CW, Willcox ML, Gilbert B; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21411015
  7. A Systematic Review on the Pharmacokinetics of Cannabidiol in Humans; Frontiers in Pharmacology; November 26, 2018; Sophie A Millar, Nicole L Stone, Andrew S Yates, and Saoirse E O’Sullivan; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6275223/
  8. Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects. 2nd edition; Chapter 1: Herbal Medicine; An Introduction to Its History, Usage, Regulation, Current Trends, and Research Needs; Benzie; Sissi Wachtel-Galor and Iris F. F. Benzie; IFF, Wachtel-Galor S, editors; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK92773/